Statement of Mary Ann Gosa of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation on the
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project
Submitted to Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
September 13, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I am Mary Ann Gosa, Assistant Director of Governmental and Community Affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. The 146,000 member families of the Federation deeply appreciate the opportunity to present their perspectives on the progress being made in implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, commonly known as CERP. As we are a general farm membership organization, our membership reflects the full spectrum of Florida Agriculture, and many of our South Florida members are impacted directly by the CERP. We applaud the interest of the Committee in ensuring that this path-breaking restoration effort stays on the course laid out by Title VI of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000.
Title VI of WRDA 2000 was largely the product of the careful work of the Environment and Public Works Committee. During its deliberations, the committee considered the counsel provided by all of the groups interested in the CERP as well as the expert opinion and recommendations of the concerned Federal and State of Florida agencies. The result is a well-crafted charter and framework for future project planning and implementation of a plan that would ensure the environmental and economic health of South Florida for the next half century. Success of the CERP is essential to the Everglades and to South Florida's agriculture and its millions of residents. CERP is also a model for all those interested in successful ecological restoration worldwide.
A fundamental requirement in the CERP authorization is that the planning of future project components is to address ecological and economic water uses in the region in a balanced way. For the plan to continue to enjoy the broad political support that was essential to its authorization, this principle must be honored as implementation proceeds.
Having had the opportunity to work with the Corps of Engineers and other agencies for almost two years within the legislative framework of WRDA 2000, we wish to affirm its soundness and implementability. We continue to support Title VI as strongly now as we did in 2000.
Our support of the authorizing legislation should not be viewed as a lack of concern about the implementation of CERP. Implementation of the conceptual plan is much more complex than what most of its advocates and developers anticipated. In the last two years, many lessons have been learned, and process of developing the programmatic regulations has been an important learning experience for all. The Corps of Engineers and its partner, the South Florida Management District, are clearly committed to implementing the CERP within the congressionally directed guidance provided in Title VI of WRDA 2000.
One lesson has become especially clear to us. It is absolutely essential that the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District follow the Federal Government's procedures and meet all of the Federal requirements for project feasibility studies. The scientific and technological uncertainties inherent in the CERP require that CERP projects meet the same standards as required for other Civil Works projects nation-wide. Congress made all major CERP project implementation subject to the completion of feasibility level studies and gave specific direction regarding project justification and the need for cost-effectiveness in Title VI. Such guidance was prescient in anticipating the problems that would be encountered by the Corps in going from the broad conceptual plan of its 1999 Restudy of the Central and Southern Florida Project to actual project design and implementation.
South Florida farmers, as well as all Floridians, have much at stake. For farmers, it is their land, their water and their financial resources. Without the additional water provided by CERP projects, ecosystems will continue to be unstable and degraded, water for domestic purposes will become increasingly inadequate, and agriculture will be unable to grow.
Late last year the Corps released two draft reports, the Indian River Lagoon-South Feasibility Study and the Central Southern Florida Project Water Preserve Areas Feasibility Study. These two studies, which had been underway since 1996, are integral components of implementing major elements of the CERP. The Water Preserve Areas study is at the center of CERP and contains several CERP components. Review of these studies during the public comment period that is required by the National Environmental Policy Act provided valuable insights in the CERP's implementation challenges. These reports demonstrated the difficulty of developing cost-effective, immediately productive project components that have to fit into the larger CERP framework. We know that the Corps is working to remedy the problems with these major projects, which are important to the overall success of the plan as well as to the users of the built environment. These planning reports have been important learning experiences that, no doubt, have been invaluable in helping the Corps to develop important sections of the Programmatic Regulations required by Title VI.
The Programmatic Regulations
One major milestone in the implementation of CERP will be the publication of the Programmatic Regulations by the Secretary of the Army. The Army and the Corps has worked diligently with the Federal Agencies, the State of Florida, the Tribes and the various stakeholder groups to develop these regulations. We in the agriculture community commend the Corps on its work to date and we look forward to having the final regulations in place by next December's deadline. We, of course, have specific concerns with the proposed regulations, which we will address in our comments to the Corps as provided for in the public comment process. Today I will touch upon six broad areas that are appropriate for this hearing.
· Scope and detail
One key issue that was addressed during the passage of WRDA was the question of the content of these “new” programmatic regulations. Congress, wisely in our view, clearly and explicitly limited them to process matters. The Corps has properly followed Congress's intent in this regard and has outlined processes for each of the areas called for by the law. Detailing these processes has been more complex than anticipated, and many specific steps have yet to be developed and articulated. Without the details to be addressed in future guidance memorandums, major uncertainties in the implementation process will remain. As a group impacted by CERP, we are vitally interested in those details and are pleased that the six guidance memorandums, which will contain further detail, will be subject to the full public and executive branch review process before they become final.
The most important process, in our view, is the one that will guide plan formulation for CERP components. Success of the CERP depends upon a systematic planning process that will ensure that each component in CERP is cost-effective and produces benefits as it is completed. This requirement will ensure that interim performance results are achieved and that each investment will be a productive use of public funds regardless of how the plan evolves during its several decade-long implementation cycle. The Corps proposed process, although lacking in the detail that is necessary to give us complete confidence, contains all the necessary elements to achieve this result. The process outlined in the proposed regulations advances well beyond the Corps initial concepts articulated last December and is a reflection of the steep slope of the learning curve associated with such a large and complex project as CERP.
· Interim goals
The matter of how interim goals should be addressed has been a contentious one. There is a great deal of interest of establishing restoration performance measures for the plan over time. We share that interest and appreciate the fact the proposed processes establishing interim goals provide for performance measures for both the natural system and the built environment. We would note however that the process laid out in the proposed regulation is extremely thin. This suggests that developing a reasonable process for interim goals requires much additional thought. We believe that interim goals should flow from the plan formulation process. Interim goals should represent the cumulative impact of successive projects as anticipated in individual project implementation reports (PIRs). We are concerned that any process that attempts to establish interim goals in advance of feasibility studies will be arbitrary and may drive the formulation of project components that are not cost-effective. Goals and timetables that are not based on an integrated consideration of engineering and economic information as well as hydrological and ecological data should be avoided. Therefore, a six-month timeframe to define interim goals in terms of water allocations appears to be premature.
· Targets for other water-related needs of the region
The proposed programmatic regulations appropriately outline a process for establishing targets for evaluating progress towards achieving other water-related needs of the region throughout the implementation process. Such targets are important to ensure that the balanced purposes of the plan are met and to assure full accountability during implementation. They provide all stakeholders with the assurance that the overarching objective of the Plan, which is "the restoration, preservation, and protection of the South Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection" will be achieved. We commend the Corps for responding to our concerns in this area.
· The role of Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER)
RECOVER is an interdisciplinary, interagency scientific and technical team that serves several functions in plan implementation, evaluation and adaptation of the CERP. These include ensuring that a system-wide perspective is applied and the best available scientific and technical information will be used throughout the duration of the plan. The proposed regulations attempt to assure the public that "Documents prepared by RECOVER are not self-executing and must be reviewed, discussed, revised and/or approved by responsible management officials…as appropriate prior to implementation of management responses based on the results and findings therein." However, we remain concerned that the RECOVER process will lead to decisions that do not properly integrate cost effectiveness information and will lead to wasteful resource allocation decisions.
· Unrealistic deadlines
The proposed regulations lay out specific deadlines for several important follow-on actions. These include the deadlines for interim goals, guidance memorandums and the baseline water allocation. Given the time required to develop the level of detail in the proposed programmatic regulations, we seriously question whether these deadlines are realistic. We are very much concerned that these deadlines will lead to ill-conceived, arbitrary outcomes or unfair complaints about agency commitment to the project as a result of missed deadlines. Fundamentally, we are concerned that implementation is carried out in a credible matter that will retain the confidence of the public and the Congress. Already, There have been unfair criticisms of the agencies for taking too long and for "delaying" benefits. We hope the agencies will not continue to invite such criticisms or drive themselves to bad decisions by imposing unworkable timelines.
· Role of the Department of the Interior
The Proposed Regulations give the Department of the Interior a concurrence role in the development of the guidance memorandums and in the establishment of the pre-CERP baseline water allocation. As the Committee may be aware, some advocacy groups have argued for an even greater role for the Department in CERP implementation. Florida agriculture supported the CERP as a project to be implemented under the Civil Works program of the Department of the Army. Authority and responsibility for all aspects of its implementation must rest with the Secretary of the Army and its non-Federal partner, the South Florida Water Management District. We believe that any diffusion of that responsibility will weaken accountability and create the potential for indecision and delay.
Title VI of WRDA 2000 is well-constructed legislation that provides the framework for responsible implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. We believe the Corps and the State of Florida have shown impressive and effective leadership in project implementation. No legislative adjustments are necessary or appropriate at this time. The agencies should continue to proceed with the WRDA 2000 charter, which is guiding the project so effectively. We pledge our continued support for the CERP and affirm our willingness to work with all stakeholders to ensure that all of South Florida's water demands are addressed in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Mr. Chairman I will be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.